The Giay Ethnic Group in Vietnam

The Giay Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Lables: Ethnic Groups, Giay ethnic group, Tay-Thai Group

Proper name: Giay.

Other names: Nhang, Giang.

Population: 37,964 people. (1999 census).

Language: Giay language belongs to the Tai - Kadai language family.

History: Giay people immigrated to VietNam from China about 200 years ago.

Production activities: Giay people have experience in wet-rice cultivation on terraced rice fields. In addition, they grow corn; rice, root crops, and vegetables in widen fields. Farm animals are raised, but left free to forage. The Giay have several handicrafts, but they are not widespread.

Diet: The Giay eat rice. Rice is boiled in an under-cooked state and then put in a steamer for steam cooking. Water used to co°k rice constitutes a type of drink. Giay cuisine, especially for festivals, is influenced by Han (Chinese) people.

Clothes: Women used to wear dress like the style of Hmong people. Today, they wear dark indigo trousers with a red cotton waistband; a five-panel blouse split at the sides and mid-thigh length and buttoned on the right. Around the collar and sleeves are colorful cotton bands. Women wrap their hair around the head and fix it with red threads. They also wear bags embroidered with colorful threads and zigzag designs on the shoulder. Men wear a kind of trousers called la toa, a shirt with side panels and buttons down the front.

Housing: Giay people live in districts of Bat Xat, Bao Thang, Muong Khuong (province of Lao Cai), Yen Minh, Dong Van (Ha Giang), Phong Tho, Muong Te (Lai Chau). Giay houses of the traditional stilt house style are still widespread in Ha Giang, but the Giay of Lao Cai and Lai Chau have adopted the type of house built on the ground, with an area for drying farm products kept in the front of the house. The house currently comprises three sections, with the altar being placed in the central section.

Transportation: The Giay carry things in back-baskets, horses and buffaloes.

Social organization: Before the revolution of August, 1945, Giay societies were divided into distinct social classes. The upper class was composed of officials in the administration of communes, hamlets and mountain villages. Many of them had paddies cultivated and forests grown by farmers. They also had soldiers and housekeepers taking care of funerals and weddings, sometimes they even had a dance troupe. Farmers were forced to pay taxes, do hard work, pay money to the officials.

Marriage: Matrimonial rites are numerous: proposing marriage; proposing a marriage with the help of a go-between or match-maker; engagement; the wedding; and the post-marriage visit when the new bride and groom return to their parents' families the day after the wedding. In the engagement ceremony, the groom's family gives the bride's a necklace and a bracelet to signify their intentions. For the wedding, the groom's family must offer the bride's family food and money to give close relatives as a present. Each relative receives a chicken, a duck and a silver coin. Like Hmong people, the Giay people also practice the custom of "abducting" the bride.

Birth: There are a, number of of customary avoidances when a woman in pregnant; wood is not burned from the top to the bottom (to avoid difficulties when delivering); pregnant women are not allowed to attend funerals or visit places for worshiping (fear of losing their spirit). When it is time to give birth, the woman makes offerings to the Mother spirit. When the child is one month old, one must make offerings to the ancestors; they give the child a name and establish his or her horoscope which will serve later when it is time to choose a compatible partner in marriage and for choosing the proper time to be put in the coffin and buried when he/she dies.

Funerals: Giay people believe that if the funeral is well organized, the dead will live in heaven happily with their ancestors; if not, the dead would be forced to live in hell or become animals. Therefore, in rich families, the funeral can last from 5 to7 days with extra rituals such as lantern running along the river, leading the spirit on a procession... Children must be in mourning for their parents for a year. The end of mourning is generally celebrated at the end of the year.

Belief: The Giay altar is located at the middle section of the house. There are three incense bowls set from the left to the right to worship the Kitchen God, Heaven and Earth, and the family ancestors. In case the master of the house is a foster child or a son-in-law who wants to worship his real parents, he must set up a fourth incense bowl to the far left for this purpose. If a family has no altar to the Mother spirit in the house, then they set a fifth incense bowl to the right. In some families, beside the big altar, they set up a smaller one to worship their parents-in-law. Below the altar, they set an incense bowl to worship the Earth God on the ground; two more altars are set at the sides of the gate to worship the spirit who is the Defender of the Doorway or Gate.

Festivals: Giay festivals are similar to those of other ethnic groups living in the northwest region of the country: Tet, the lunar New Year; the Day of Clearness (visiting graves after Tet); and the fifth day of the fifth lunar month...

Calendar: The Giay follow the lunar calendar.

Education: The Giay haven't had their own writing, although some have learned Han (the old Chinese) characters.

Artistic activities: Giay literary patrimony includes folktales and legends, poems, proverbs, short stories, folk songs, puzzles... The Giay have three styles of singing: those called vuon or phuon that are sung when there are feast, those which are sung at night, and those to sing farewell to someone.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen